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The Breathing Walls Of Beirut’s Grand Theatro

GRAND THEATRO just before reconstruction (1994) • Pierre Maadanjian • Photography
GRAND THEATRO just before reconstruction (1994) • Pierre Maadanjian • Photography
Version 3.4 for Two Baritone Narrators and Sound Effects

Prelude1)I would like to thank Dr Nikolas Kosmatopoulos, Dr. Assaad Kattan and Rima Rantisi.

In the fall of 2022, a new round of clashes in the outskirts of Beirut erupted between three Lebanese sects. At its margin, Salim Fadel, a 42-year-old seasoned expert in development consulting, pursued his personal interests when the government requested that all of its institutions remain closed until a cease-fire was reached. Salim had been commissioned by both Solidere and the Lebanese government to conduct studies in the framework of development and public sector reform. He had earned the trust and credibility of his clients though deep down his true interests drifted from the essence of his work. He spent his time off attending music and theater performances as well as presentations by local NGOs and academic groups critical of the current establishment and who challenged its attempts of controlling the citizens’ collective memory through the dominant philosophy of reconstruction. Salim was passionate about these “experiences of discovery” that led him towards new patterns of thought and seemingly endless linguistic landscapes he did not encounter during his study or work. He also looked for answers to the contradictions of values that drove his professional life versus those that drove his cultural interests.

Solidere, the Reconstruction Megaproject of Beirut, had officially become a Corporatist City State (CCS) two years earlier. It had built its own electronic walls to isolate itself from sporadic conflicts that took place outside its immediate borders. Its local and international expansion plans were clear, as it took over the district of Saifi, which falls on its eastern border. CCS announced that this district will be used to house all workers employed within its facilities during the day, particularly those who are not among its citizens. Investigative reporters collected substantial evidence, contrary to what Solidere officially proclaimed; they found that Solidere had built secret high-tech prisons and devised a plan to install a waste management plant.

One of the questions that interested Salim was the destiny of the main characters of plays and novels after they end. Do these characters whither in the minds of their authors, performers, and audiences when the curtains close and the lights turn off? Salim chose to revisit the main character of Ziad Rahbani’s prescient plays Bekhsous el Karameh wel Shaab el Aaneed (Concerning Dignity and the Stubborn People) and Lawla Fosehat el Amal (Had It Not Been for Those Chances of Hope) which were performed at Hamra’s Piccadilly Theater in 1993 and 1994, respectively. This character, played by Rahbani himself, is a Police Officer whose serious attempts to solve problems of daily urban life failed although all foreign troops and forces had left Lebanon. The play ends when the earth swallows the officer upon his plea. Salim listened to the audio recording of the play on his daily trips from his house located in the neo-rural town of Aley to his office located next to the “Crafts of Trade” Garden near Hamra. Is the Police Officer still alive? Salim asked himself. Has he started a new journey underneath, in the earth that swallowed him?


Doubt

(1)
Making use of his permit to enter Solidere CCS, Salim visited the Archives Department of An-nahar Newspaper. Solidere CCS had taken over and made the paper its official news and archive hub and one of the main itineraries of its cultural tourism; now the building was just a museum of old news. He started his newspaper search dating back to 1991. In his search, he was reminded of the transitions that Beirut underwent after the end of the Civil War. He read Joseph Samaha’s sparkling review of the play Bekhsous el Karameh and his comparison between the two “projects” of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and Ziad Rahbani, namely: the Neo-liberal Solidere and its socialist counter discourse, respec-tively. The press releases of civil society campaigns protesting the government’s inaction regarding those who disappeared and were kidnapped during the war refreshed his memory of the painful strife the parents and family members suffered.

 

(2)
As Salim progressed in his search, he noticed that the archives pertaining to many incidents he had on his list were missing, particularly those relating to the public protest campaign that An-nahar cultural supplement launched in the 1990s. Upon checking with the officer in charge, he received no proper justification of the archives’ whereabouts. Were such archives destroyed upon Solidere CCS’s appropriation of the Center to maintain a unified and “neutralized” historical discourse which supports its vision and objectives? Salim decided to pursue his research in the archives of the Jafet Library at the American University in Beirut instead, particularly because it was relatively distant from the current clashes, but also knowing that he could rely on the expertise of the Chief Archivist Kaoukab Chebaro. His hunch was right. The story of Pierre Malichev, the reviews of Issam Abu Khaled’s play Archipelago about the trash bridge between Beirut and Cyprus and of Ghassan Salhab’s dark films on post-war Beirut were still listed. This was true as well for the critical essays on reconstruction, which were properly maintained, by the architects Jad Tabet and Assem Salam and the economics historian George Corm.

A good part of the archive at Jafet Library was donated by collectors who were, in most cases, at the margin of the ruling system. Salim was not far from this margin. He certainly could not resort to official history books for information or understanding. Salim even wondered why his war-torn country had not yet witnessed the emergence of “archive activists.” It is true that archives gain importance with time. Still, the landscape looked like islands of dispersed initiatives. This could probably be due to the absence of an agreed upon narrative of Leba-non’s past, its neo-liberal peacebuilding practice that “ignores local voices,”2)Richmond, Oliver. “The Romanticisation of the Local: Welfare, Culture and Peacebuilding.” International Spectator, vol. 44, no. 1, 2009. and the “death of institutions of communal remembrance.” 3)Woodward, Michelle. “Creating Memory and History: The Role of Archival Practices in Lebanon & Palestine.” Photographies, vol. 2, no.1, March 2009.

 

(3)
The case of the detained pharmacologist and environmental activist Pierre Malychef popped up from the archive papers and caught Salim’s immediate attention. Malychef was one of the three principal scientific investigators assigned to the case of toxic waste brought illegally from Italy in 1987. After seven years of investigation, the case was closed. Shockingly, he was accused of being a “false witness,” despite the photos, scientific tests, and documents he had provided4)Hamdan, Fouad. “Toxic Attack Against Lebanon, Case One: Toxic Waste From Italy, Chronology: 1987-1997.” Fouad Hamdan, 1997, fouadhamdan.org/cms/upload/pdf/ItalianToxicWasteInLebanon_GreenpeaceChronol- ogy1987_1997_FouadHamdan_ENGLISH_May1997.pdf. Accessed 29 August 2017.. More than that, the prosecutor accused him of fabricating the toxic waste trade claim and using his evidence to support that purpose. As a result, according to the Lebanese judicial system, “all documents, scientific tests, and photographs are fictional and hold no power of truth and testimony.”5)Khazrik, Jessika. “The Society of False Witnesses Featured at Sursock Museum in Beirut.” MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, 2 August 2016, http://act.mit.edu/news/2016/08/02/societyoffalsewitnesses-lets-talk-about-weather. Accessed 29 August 2017. Malychef’s archive was used against him and against citizens to obliterate their memories. Malychef became a solitary victim facing a surreal destiny by his slaughterer-prosecutor. Salim felt self-defeated to read twenty or forty-year-old news that applied equally to his country’s situation in 2022. It was a preview of the waste that would overwhelm the future. Would this vicious circle be broken? When? How? Salim’s head was crowded with words and unanswered questions. He needed a break.

 

(4)
But the questions, like church bells pounding dissonantly inside his head, did not stop. How have we transformed/distorted/refurbished these divergent and conflicting ideals and dreams? Have we turned historical constructs into inter-generational ruins? Are we the professional experts of oblivious discontinuity? Was this what Antoine Zahalan, the historian of 20th century Arab science (if any), recurrently pointed out when he said that “Arabs are in need of researchers and scientists to overcome and learn from disasters if they wish to advance”?6)Zahalan, Antoine. “Ways of Dealing with Disasters.” AUB Bulletin, vol.10, no. 2, November 2008. What critical, innovative, and endogenous knowledge have we produced? With a new list of topics at hand, Salim resumed his archival adventures after a couple of days of rest and contemplation by flipping through the pages of a study by Samer Frangie7)Frangie, Samer. “Post-Development, Developmental State and Genealogy: Condemned to Develop?” Third World Quarterly, vol. 32, no.7, 2011., who was one of the new-generation faculty members at AUB at the time of its publication. Salim underlined the fol-lowing quotation, which included a citation by the anthropologist David Scott:

Our present is characterized by the gradual and often violent collapse of the dreams of previous political generations: old promises and ideals, whether associated with national sovereignty, socialism or for that matter development, “do not name visionary horizons of new beginnings” but, on the contrary, refer now to “forms of existing social and political reality whose normative limits we now live as the tangible ruins of our present.”

Salim sighed with bitterness and thought about the successive promises of development that had emerged throughout the last century to end up as national Nakbas of decadence and an abyss of social and environmental disintegration.

 

(5)
As a result of an “archival impulse”8)Woodward, Michelle. “Creating Memory and History: The Role of Archival Practices in Lebanon & Palestine.” Photographies, vol. 2, no.1, March 2009.  that lasted for about three months, Salim managed to collect a good number of observations about Lebanon’s post-civil war history, though he was not successful in attaining any information directly related to the fate of the Police Officer. He also recorded a series of weird incidents that took place in Beirut and did not receive ample media attention. These incidents were also not addressed by local politicians as they were too busy reinforcing their interests within their neoliberal and auto-colonial systems masked by the language of peace and the longing for reconciliation; they were:

  1. The curious disappearance of Pierre Malychef and the loss of the bulk of his archive of photos and documents.
  2. Extraordinary noises heard by fishermen of Ein el-Mreisseh  in the same location that witnessed the press conferences of the "Rural Beirut" campaign in 2016 and again in the spring of 2022. These noises seemed to recur each Nowruz.
  3. The inability of Solidere CCS to carry out the demolition of the Grand Theatro building as per its master plan despite its repeated attempts.

For Salim, the findings were astonishing, but he was particularly fascinated by the story of the Grand Theatro.

 

(6)
Located at the beginning of the Ma’arad Street, the Grand Theatro site was previously a warehouse for ships. It was designed by the leading multi-disciplinary architect of the time, Youssef ‘Affendi’ Af-timous (1866-1952) who also designed many of Beirut's landmarks such as the Municipality Building, the Grand Serail's Hamidiyyeh clock tower, and the Barakat Building. These landmarks were meant to be signs of the city’s forthcoming transient role as a regional urban hub and of the “modern times” to come. Aftimous was one of the leading Francophone cultural figures of Beirut during the French Man-date, who played a decisive role among others in the establishment of the Lebanese National Museum. Jacques Tabet (1885-1956) handled its construction which was completed in 1929 in line with the latest European standards. The theater was the prime scene of performing arts, films, and national events in Beirut for the following few decades until it started to wither away due to competition from newly built nearby theater and cinema houses. In the post-independence Lebanon of the 1950s, the theater totally stopped hosting plays and musical performances and was reduced to a second rate cinema defeated by the evolving technological requirements of the film industry. The slow and long free fall continued during the 1970s and throughout the civil war when its activities, controlled by the rival militias, were limited to screenings of pornographic films. It descended to the “bottom of the bottom,” haunted by the darkness and fantasies of war and lacking the minimum standards of cleanliness and care. At this point in his search, Salim became certain that this venue had to be the starting point. He was saddened to learn about the trajectory of decay of this once glorious and avant-garde theater as he wondered how the generations and life lines of places and people and their ruins yearn towards each other!


Experience

(1)
On a dark rainy night in November, Salim started his secret visits to the Grand Theatro. On his way, he pondered the circumstances that helped protect it from the “vested tabula rasas” of destruction. Was it the accumulated energy of the actors who performed in this place? Or the influence of the neighboring Martyrs Square as a “mediated space for negotiating history and cultural memory”?9)Nasr, Asem. “A Fragmented Unity: Lebanon’s War and Peace in Cultural Memory.” Global Media Journal. vol. 7, no. 12, 2008. When he reached the site, Salim entered through the backdoor after paying the guards a tip. The main hall was so smelly, he actually fainted.

When he woke up, Salim was dumbfounded to see the familiar faces of Pierre Malychef and Antoine Zahalan. He did not know what had happened and how he was able to break through its borders, but he knew he was in the Theatro’s Underworld.

For the first moments, he was full of dread. He could not absorb the shock of the sequence of actions that took place. But the friendly greeting of Malychef’s relaxed voice calmed his anxiety: “Welcome to our ‘Social Laboratory Collective!”10)Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press, 1990. Take a long breath of our fresh air and get ready for a guided tour. You are our privileged guest. Few of the Upperworld humans have had this opportunity to enter our Underworld.”

“Can this be real?” Salim murmured to himself.

“Yes,” Zahalan replied, “our ears can hear the sound discourses of plants and dust of the earth. Our large eyes emanate light and capture a fourth dimension you cannot attain. Our united memory accommodates all memories of the universe. It is ethereally connected beyond the scope of the five senses of the Upperworld citizens. It is our common resource pool that we have willingly agreed to share and manage amongst ourselves. For this purpose, we have devised systems of governance and control. Our bodies are connected extensions of our Underworld and the geographies of our wounds.”

 

(2)
“Are you ready for the tour?” Malychef asked Salim.

Serita11)Serita is one of the female characters of Ziad Rahbani’s play Bekhsous el Karameh wel Shaab el Aaneed. She is a maid with a Sri Lankan nationality who eventually becomes an inventor., Zahalan’s assistant, joined in at this point and gave Salim a pair of eyeglasses and head-phones to promote the biological boundaries of his senses and the capacities of his body so he could better perceive and assimilate the intricate dimensions of the Underworld. Salim recognized her, though no introductions were made. He nodded his head with appreciative excitement.

“Let’s proceed then,” Malychef said, while his smiling eyes reached out to Zahalan and Serita, and he started his explanatory narrative: “Our ‘Social Laboratory Collective’ is a multifunctional habitation. It consists of dedicated work, housing, and recreation departments and is governed by the supreme standards of science. Do not be mistaken by relating our science to yours; it is definitely not the concept of science that the citizens of the Upperworld behold. It even takes your ‘Post-Normal Science’12)D’Alisa, Giacomo and Giorgos Kallis. “Post-Normal Science.” Degrowth: A Vocabulary for A New Era, edited by Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria and Giorgos Kallis, Routledge, 2015, pp 185-188. further beyond. It is an emic science that brings East and West, old wisdom and new technology; it’s the holistic science of life, not of death, the science of all those yearning for wisdom and not only the elite, any elite, be it technocratic, economic, or political.”

As the tour progressed, Malychef continued his presentation: “Our Collective started from underneath the Grand Theatro going south until the seashore of Ein el-Mreisseh extending eastwards to the basement of the ultra-hybrid Zaha Hadid Building at the American University of Beirut, which previously used to be the campus’s infirmary. The underworld is a ‘space of becoming’ that continues to create its own sustainable and autonomous alter-natives, unlike your Corporatist City State of the Upperworld, my dear Salim. It is: an Accelerator, an Incubator, a Workshop, a Smart Compound,  a Freedom Lab, an Innovation Hub, a Futuristic Think Tank, a Collaborative Space, an Under-ground Garage, a Think Lab, a Boot Camp, an Observatory, an Idea Camp and whatever other form that may come forth.”

 

(3)
Salim was overwhelmed with happiness with this new gift of knowledge. He took a minute to ask Serita if she knew anything about the fate of the disappearing Police Officer since she also took part in the same play. Serita was reluctant to respond, unsure if it was safe to disclose any information. Zahalan stepped in to lead the discussion, addressing Salim: “The ‘Social Laboratory Collective’ was a participatory grassroots initiative, and you should not be surprised, our good guest, if the Police Officer might be one of its co-founders.”

Giving no chance for Salim to comment or ask further questions, Zahalan promptly started to introduce selected sections of the Collective: “This is Malychef’s latest work in progress supported by regiments of the kidnapped and missing during the Lebanese civil war. It is an instrument that lures traveling wounds13)Al-Dewachi, Omar. “Body of Evidence: Trauma and the Politics of Visibility”. Paper presented at “Beyond Trauma: Emergent Agendas in Understanding Mental Health in the Middle East, Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College, London, September, 2014. and dreams of war victims and reconstructs them after digging in for their root causes. It seeks biological and social wounds beyond humanitarianism and traumas14)Das, Veena. “Beyond Trauma, Beyond Humanitarianism, Beyond Empathy.” Medicine Anthropology Theory, vol.2, no.3, 2015.. Malychef is still exploring the nature of sounds produced in this process.”

 

(4)
Salim had the chance to observe different workshops. One of which was developing a dual technology that studied the history of the citizens of the Upperworld through analysis of their trash. At the end of the passageway lay a work-sharing incubator that was located under the Zaha Hadid building, the infirmary site turned policy institute. This incubator was facilitated personally by Zahalan and Hisham Sharabi, a historian of the patriarchy of Arab modernities, and it aimed to reclassify excavated genealogies of words, discourses, methodologies and to redesign the map of their interactions.

The tour would end at the social-experimental theater space where a performance would be held in honour of Salim. It was partly inspired by the works of the American director Peter Sellars, the Lebanese theater playwright Yaacoub Chedrawi, the Brazilian Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed who is intimately influenced by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. While maintaining a solid foundation based on Classical Greek Theater, it celebrated the emancipation of the Underworld citizens through “Holistic Science” and provided a psychosocial analysis of the dehumanizing effects of development, post-development, and “humanitarian violence” upon individuals, communities, and nations. Its epitome was the call for new alternatives through socio-economic, cultural, and political action mediated by the ethereal deconstruction of the injuries of corpses including those descending from secret mass burials.

(5)
As Salim, Malichev, Zahalan, and Serita along with other Underworld citizens took their seats, the lights dimmed in preparation for the performance. His pounding heart pierced the silence that instantly swept that space. His childhood fantasies of theaters with imagined sounds and paintings that one can both see and hear re-emerged at that moment. A feeling of bliss started gradually to take over the jungle of emotions that were dominant within him. Salim’s special tribute would be an exposition of his two most recent previous lives reincarnated through the unfolding of the injuries of their two respective corpses15)Sadek, Walid. “In the Presence of the Corpse.” Third Text, vol. 26, no.4, 2012.; Zoukak Theater Company (Performance), “Perform-autopsy (Mashrah Watani).” Beirut, 2012.. Not informed by any of his companions, he would witness with his own senses and cognition the layers of his traveling wounds, wounded cities, and the signs of their times. The Police Officer, incognito since the start of Salim’s underground journey, was also closely watching the unfolding of the seemingly veiled history of these wounds.

 

(6)
Lullabies of Encounters, Lexicons of Vulnerabilities: A Play

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Chorus:

The male characters include:

AHMAD ABU-KHALIL AL QABBANI, a pioneer of Arab Musical Theater who immigrated to Egypt after his Damascene theater was burned down in 1884.                KHALIL HAWI, the critical writer and modernist poet with a prevailing apocalyptic vision who committed suicide as an act of protest in 1982.
PAUL GUIRAGOSSIAN, the painter whose art was haunted by suffering bodies, corpses and the people of Beirut’s slums. He lost a leg in a dramatic elevator accident in the 1970’s.
SAMIR KASSIR, the activist, journalist and histo-rian of Beirut, and the aborted Arab renaissance who was assassinated in 2006.

There are four female characters, all from Bekhsous el-Karameh:

ETHICS (Al-Akhlaq)
THE FOUNDATION (Al-Qaa’ida)                                                                  ELECTRICITY (Al-Kahraba)
FOOD-MONEY (AKO-Masari)

Narrators:

TOUFIC YOUSSEF AWWAD, the novelist and diplomat who wrote Al-Raghif (The Loaf) in 1939, the first Arabic novel about World War I; he was killed by a bomb in 1988.
MAROUN BAGHDADI, the Lebanese film director who mysteriously passed away in 1993 at one of the planned settings in Beirut of his new film.

Corpses:

SAMI ASSEM, Salim Fadel’s first ancestral reincarna-tion born in 1860 and died in 1927.
KHALIL WAKED, Salim Fadel’s second ancestral re-incarnation born in 1927 and died in 1980 at the age of 53.
THEATER SCIENTISTS and SOUND WORKERS from the Social Laboratory Collective.

SCENE 1

The play opens in a minimalist setting with the Greek Chorus fully dressed in black entering center stage and chanting the opening song with dark background sounds.

CHORUS

Protected by our holistic science
And the walls that breathe
At the edge of death
Beyond Day and Night
Beyond War and Peace
Beyond West and East
Like the memory of water
Beyond Black and White
These are the narratives of your scars
O thou Salim
The visitor of our Underworld

The first Narrator, Toufic Youssef Awwad, enters from left stage with slow-paced steps and is dressed in dark green. In a dim dark voice, he tells the story of one of the characters of his novel, Sami Assem, who was Salim’s first ancestral reincarnation.

TOUFIC YOUSSEF AWWAD

Sami Assem was born on the same day his father died during the 1860 massacres when blood washed the soil of the village of Chemlan in Mount Lebanon. Following the steps of his father, Sami was one of the household assistants of Viscount Nasrallah Antoine de Tarrazi since his early adolescence. Later, he became one of the assistants of the Viscount’s son Philippe (1865-1956). Sami witnessed Philippe de Tarrazi’s growing collection of newspapers and his consistent calls for reform. Moreover, he was an active member of the secret movement for food smuggling, championed by the Viscount to help the needy during the days of famine. The local mafia of food merchants who were behind the shortage of wheat in Beirut to raise the prices of bread and increase their own wealth informed their friend the Ottoman commander about the secret movement. Eventually Sami was imprisoned in Aley by the Ottoman Army forces along with the Viscount; he was tortured under interrogation. While in prison, his family fled to the village of Kfarmisk. He was not able to save two of his children who passed away due to hunger and disease. When the French Army occupied Beirut, Sami was finally set free. He killed the mafia leader in revenge and opted to maintain a low profile. Viscount de Tarrazi meanwhile established the Disaster Relief Commission for the nation's disaster-stricken population in 1920 as there was no reason to keep it as a secret movement anymore at the beginning of the French Mandate. Sami eventually joined the construction crew of Beirut’s leading architect and civil engineer Youssef Aftimus as a foreman. He died on site during the final construction stages of Grand Theatro.

As the Narrator exits stage left, the chorus proceeds to chant the “Vulnerability Song,” accompanied with sounds generated by musical instruments invented in the Social Laboratory Collective while the theater scientists bring Sami’s corpse onstage to intimately disclose its injuries.

CHORUS

Protected by our holistic science
And the walls that breathe
Beyond West and East

The science of eternal beginnings
The science Arabs lost
Beyond Rich and Poor

Our extended bodies engulf you
Wake up Wake up
Beyond War and Peace

Our unheard sounds storm within you
Wake up wake up
Beyond Life and Death

Our aura unveils your nightmares

Wake up wake up
Beyond Old and New
Wake up to feel your wounds
Beyond Black and White
Feel your wounds
Beyond War and Peace
Open your wounds
Beyond Rich and Poor
Open your wounds
Beyond West and East

Thou child of the Underworld
With the memory of water
Open up your wounds

One of the chorus members steps downstage to chant Sami’s “Lullaby of Wounds” as transcribed by the theater scientists.

CHORUS

Like a child reaching out to its mother
I seek my wounds
Like a swallow flying through the edge of sky                                                             My wounds open
These are the scars of torture and resistance

My body is the city they invaded
My body is the city we re-surrendered
My heart is the shelter of the children of famine                                                          My broken arms are the swords of the poor                                                                 and the nightmare of the merchants of war

Like a tree yielding to the light is my yearning                                                               to the books I carried but could not read
Like a black tulip is my sorrow over the people who                                                     sold their souls to the skin of progress

I saw the stones of the theater wall fall over me
I saw my soul flying away from me
My blood is the fuel of the types haunting us from the other shore
My death is a chain in the passage to a new war

The stones of the theater wall fell over me
The stones made a great big hole through me                                                               The dust of this land of amnesia has entered me                                                          My memory leaks through the porous walls storming the asleep

The incantations of my memory remain beyond redemption
Forget I cannot
Forget I will not

The theater scientists carry Sami’s corpse around the stage in a circular fashion while the accompanying sounds become coarse as they exit stage right.

SCENE 2

The second narrator, Maroun Baghdadi, enters stage left dressed in dark red to start the second and last scene. In a husky baritone, he narrates the story of Khalil Waked, Salim’s second ancestral reincarnation.

MAROUN BAGHDADI

Khalil Waked’s family was among the many migrants to Beirut during the mandate due to the primacy that this rule gave to cities at the expense of rural districts in their development policies. Khalil and Mandated Beirut shared a similar growth trajectory. Young Khalil enjoyed schooling and the fruits of city life. In parallel, Beirut was steadily becoming a regional nexus of modernity, culture, education, and medicine backed up by an evolving national economy driven by tourism and banking services. Khalil soon witnessed Lebanon’s inde-pendence and the reform master plans by General Fouad Chehab to create a modern administration following the French model. Khalil’s first job was at the Ministry of Planning where he cultivated his ex-perience in rural development and nation building. These promises of growth were gradually contested by traditional feudal and confessional leaders and the arena of the conflict between these various play-ers continued to widen in the years following the 1958 confrontations. His wife and her friends were kidnapped at the onset of the civil war. His enduring attempts to negotiate her safe return failed. It was the shock of his life when her body was found at the outskirts of Beirut city center raped and mutilated. He became obsessed with his wife’s horrific passing. Revenge haunted him. The blooming trail that both he and Beirut shared started to collapse. It turned into a labyrinth of violence and decadence. He burnt his personal archive of field photos and recordings along with all that reminded him of his “Lebanon” and his earlier life. Khalil joined a local militia. He reigned over his slaughterhouse, protected and empowered by the militia and their emerging econ-omies. His specialty became devising new kidnap-ping tactics and torture techniques modeled by his imagery of the deconstructed transactions of the prewar laissez-faire spectacle society. He was both the slayer and the victim who gradually sank in his own abyss of micro-wars and daily rehearsals of death that reached their epitome when he killed himself.

As Maroun Baghdadi exits stage left, the chorus members proceed to chant the same “Vulnerability Song” again while the theater scientists carry Khalil’s corpse onto the stage for the commencement of the deconstruction ritual. After the “Vulnerability Song,” another member of the chorus steps downstage along with the Social Laboratory Collective sound workers to chant Khalil’s “Lullaby of Wounds.”

CHORUS

Like a swallow flying through the edge of sky
I seek my wounds
Like a child reaching out to its mother
My wounds open
These are the scars of decadence and nemesis

The first time I died at the feet of my wife’s corpse
Her mutilated body unleashed my feudal patriarchy
Her smelly disfigurements liberated my memory                                                          I am the past and future
I am the living and the dead

The next time I died at the relics of our modernity                                                       At the tyranny of our collective white vacuum I died                                                    At the wasted geographies of their imageries I died                                                     I am the disruptive rupture of their universal code
I am the darkness of destruction and emptiness

The last time I died at the warm red house                                                                     Saved and slain by the war
The self and its other lay deep within me
I am the hero and the villain
I am the purgatory of loss and fractured nostalgia                                                        Imprisoned by the spectacles I have internalized                                                          I kill the enemy with no sympathy

Trapped within the vulnerabilities of my enemy                                                            I kill my body with no remorse
I seek no redemption
My victim’s agonies are the roots of our new memory                                                 My corpse is the fabric of our future conflicts

The play ends with Khalil’s corpse carried by the theater scientists roaming around the stage in circles and exiting from right stage exactly as in the first scene. The chorus prepares for the ending of the play. They chant the “Farewell Song” while pointing at Salim as they exit the stage and the lights dim as the sounds fade out.

CHORUS

And the walls that breathe
At the edge of life
Beyond the upper sphere

Our science of eternal beginnings
The science Arabs lost
Beyond Day and Night

O Thou Salim
Our extended bodies engulf you
Beyond War and Peace
Our unheard sounds storm within you
Beyond Black and White
Our aura unveils your nightmares
Beyond Life and Death

O Thou Salim
Your memory is your sacred sustenance
Your travelling wounds are your past and future Beyond Time and Place

O Thou Salim
As you fly back to your consciousness
Embrace the layered genealogies of your lives                                                              Beyond the walls that breathe

O Thou Salim
Open up your dreams
Reach out to your new pathway
Beyond your vulnerabilities

THE END.

 

(7)
Salim was silent, eyes open wide, gaze fixed onto the stage and the passing images of the corpses and wounds of his two previous lives. His body was to-tally numb. While in this limbo state, Malychef approached Salim gently to bring him back to the current moment, to the here and now. Salim had travelled back in time in a face to face encounter with his previous selves. He now was aware of the history of his baggage of wounds and how they had been transmitted from one generation to another. He experienced an intensity of contradictory emotions, of happiness and longing.

 

(8)
Salim woke up. It took a couple of minutes to regain his sense of direction and balance. As he opened the back door, the guards were still there. Salim asked them: “How long was I inside?”

They responded in unison, “Not much longer than a bird’s song!”

 

Resurrection

 

(1)
Salim resumed his daily routine, but the visit to the “Social Laboratory Collective” haunted his thoughts and dreams for many years afterwards. Actually, it was the Police Officer reaching out to him through his mediated dreams to hold joint discussions about the future. Salim was now the friend of Ein el-Mreisseh’s fishermen and the companion of their humble and serene silence. The dawn of each Nowruz had become an annual event in his agenda. As he grew older, tattoo-like marks began to appear on his body. It was not too long until they took shape. They were the maps of the wounds that he carried across his different lives as witnessed in the theater performance at the “Social Laboratory Collective.” His life was now multi-dimensional; he had crossed over the preset boundaries he previously faced. He was finally liberated from his deadly dualities and dilemmas between the two lives he lived by day and night. He felt blessed with the knowledge and emotions he had acquired through the quest that started with his archival impulse and underground experience; blessed like an inner river of resurrection inventing its own tributaries.

 

(2)
Meanwhile, in 2030, Solidere CCS gained total in-dependence from Beirut and the Lebanese neo-feudal-sectarian system after its recurrent attempts to come to an agreement with the local political elite reached a deadlock. The Governor of Beirut resigned from his position to join as a permanent member of Solidere CCS’s governance board. Solidere CCS signed twinning agreements and es-tablished para-diplomatic relationships with the Vatican, Silicon Valley, the Principality of Monaco, and Hong Kong. Soon afterwards, it took the initiative in establishing the “Global Forum of Corporate City States” while seeking more memberships and the export of its model to Lebanese expatriate countries. Some unusual moves were observed in the vicinity of the remains of the Egg building which Solidere CCS’s governance board was fiercely keen on keeping unknown, albeit unbeknownst to its new counterparts.

 

(3)
As Salim prepared for his retirement, he devoted his efforts and time to establishing the “Cooperative of the Archives of the Commons” and writing the oral history of the commons of Beirut along with the diary of his dream-discussions with the Police Officer about future histories. He capitalized on the transdisciplinary methods that matured in his daily practice and, more importantly, in his mind. He regularly hid his papers within the walls of the Grand Theatro. He became even more silent as he grew older and became more immersed in his explorations of the continuously evolving manifestations of exiles and traveling wounds. Maybe this silence was Salim’s gateway to other unknown places and futures within his mind, within the cyclical stories of Beirut’s unrecognized traces and fringe spectacles.

 

(4)
Salim was shot dead on his way back from the Grand Theatro where he deposited the last pile of papers he wrote and sketches he drew about collective memory of people and places. It was the fall of the year 2044. His death remains a mystery to his family and many of his collaborators in the “Co-operative of the Archives of the Commons,” who occasionally commemorate his legacy.

 

 

THE AIN EL REMMANEH BUS AND THE EGG • Akram Rayyes and Ribal Rayess • Collage
THE AIN EL REMMANEH BUS AND THE EGG • Akram Rayyes and Ribal Rayess • Collage
Contributor
Akram Rayess

Akram Rayess is a researcher, management consultant, and trainer with more than 18 years of experience in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. Parallel to his professional work, Akram is a researcher in Ethnomusicology with interest in music of the Levant, music theater, cultural development, modern heritage and documentation. Currently, he is pursuing a Master’s program in Public Policy & International Affairs (AUB, 2016).

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1. I would like to thank Dr Nikolas Kosmatopoulos, Dr. Assaad Kattan and Rima Rantisi.
2. Richmond, Oliver. “The Romanticisation of the Local: Welfare, Culture and Peacebuilding.” International Spectator, vol. 44, no. 1, 2009.
3. Woodward, Michelle. “Creating Memory and History: The Role of Archival Practices in Lebanon & Palestine.” Photographies, vol. 2, no.1, March 2009.
4. Hamdan, Fouad. “Toxic Attack Against Lebanon, Case One: Toxic Waste From Italy, Chronology: 1987-1997.” Fouad Hamdan, 1997, fouadhamdan.org/cms/upload/pdf/ItalianToxicWasteInLebanon_GreenpeaceChronol- ogy1987_1997_FouadHamdan_ENGLISH_May1997.pdf. Accessed 29 August 2017.
5. Khazrik, Jessika. “The Society of False Witnesses Featured at Sursock Museum in Beirut.” MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, 2 August 2016, http://act.mit.edu/news/2016/08/02/societyoffalsewitnesses-lets-talk-about-weather. Accessed 29 August 2017.
6. Zahalan, Antoine. “Ways of Dealing with Disasters.” AUB Bulletin, vol.10, no. 2, November 2008.
7. Frangie, Samer. “Post-Development, Developmental State and Genealogy: Condemned to Develop?” Third World Quarterly, vol. 32, no.7, 2011.
8. Woodward, Michelle. “Creating Memory and History: The Role of Archival Practices in Lebanon & Palestine.” Photographies, vol. 2, no.1, March 2009. 
9. Nasr, Asem. “A Fragmented Unity: Lebanon’s War and Peace in Cultural Memory.” Global Media Journal. vol. 7, no. 12, 2008.
10. Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
11. Serita is one of the female characters of Ziad Rahbani’s play Bekhsous el Karameh wel Shaab el Aaneed. She is a maid with a Sri Lankan nationality who eventually becomes an inventor.
12. D’Alisa, Giacomo and Giorgos Kallis. “Post-Normal Science.” Degrowth: A Vocabulary for A New Era, edited by Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria and Giorgos Kallis, Routledge, 2015, pp 185-188.
13. Al-Dewachi, Omar. “Body of Evidence: Trauma and the Politics of Visibility”. Paper presented at “Beyond Trauma: Emergent Agendas in Understanding Mental Health in the Middle East, Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College, London, September, 2014.
14. Das, Veena. “Beyond Trauma, Beyond Humanitarianism, Beyond Empathy.” Medicine Anthropology Theory, vol.2, no.3, 2015.
15. Sadek, Walid. “In the Presence of the Corpse.” Third Text, vol. 26, no.4, 2012.; Zoukak Theater Company (Performance), “Perform-autopsy (Mashrah Watani).” Beirut, 2012.
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